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The Rap-Up: Siakam deserves a spot on the All-Star team

When the All-Star starters are announced, you shouldn’t expect to hear any Raptor names called. But when Reserves are announced, don’t be surprised if Fred VanVleet isn’t the only Raptor selected.

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Toronto Raptors v Dallas Mavericks Photo by Tim Heitman/Getty Images

Pascal Siakam deserves a spot on the All-Star team. Period.

Siakam is NOT the same player who landed an All-NBA spot in 2020 — he’s been better! Pascal’s averaging career highs in rebounds, assists, steals, PER, and BPM. He is no longer forcing shots in isolation like he was last season. Instead, Siakam has struck a perfect balance of creating favourable scoring opportunities for himself and his teammates. He’s one of five players averaging at least 20 points, 8 rebounds, and 5 assists.

Stats alone won’t get you into the All-Star game, though. How does Pascal compare to his peers? First, let’s save some words and designate Basketball-Reference.com’s #2, #3, and #4 ranked MVP candidates, Giannis Antetokounmpo, Kevin Durant, and Joel Embiid as All-Star locks for the East frontcourt. With approximately 3-4 additional spots up for grabs — actually, let’s bump that up to 4-5 spots considering KD’s current injury status — Siakam’s case becomes interesting.

Other East forwards that have received consideration across the interwebs include Jayson Tatum, Jimmy Butler, Jarrett Allen, Bam Adebayo, Miles Bridges, Khris Middleton, Clint Capela, Nikola Vucevic, and Domantas Sabonis. Does Pascal have a strong enough case to knock out at least 3 of his contemporaries?

  • Capela: I only listed him because The Athletic did. “Nonetheless, with Bam Adebayo and Brook Lopez injured, he’d likely be the next man up if the East needs an additional center.” Ugh. What year are we in if that’s the reasoning?
  • Vucevic: The Bulls are simply not good enough to warrant 3 All-Stars. DeMar DeRozan and Zach LaVine are locks to get in.
  • Adebayo: If you think Siakam’s missed too many games, Bam’s played nine fewer. He shoots better from the field and averages 1.7 more rebounds per game. Otherwise, Siakam has him beat in all other categories.
  • Sabonis: Similar argument for (against?) Domas — better FG%, more rebounds — but he’s the unquestioned leader of his team. Unfortunately, that team is only higher than 2 teams in the East standings
  • Bridges: Siakam edges out Bridges in almost every statistical category, traditional or advanced. What helps Miles’ case is that the East backcourt is STACKED, so if LaMelo Ball gets the short-end of the stick, coaches/media may boost Bridges into the All-Star game. Charlotte’s surprising 26-21 record screams for at least 1 All-Star
  • Middleton: For the second consecutive season, Middleton’s points, rebounds, and FG% are lower than the previous season (he also didn’t make the All-Star team last year). He’s turning the ball over at a career-high rate and if the Bucks get a 2nd All-Star, Jrue Holiday is more deserving with better advanced stats across the board (i.e. VORP, Win Shares, BPM, PER)
  • Tatum: Four. Jayson Tatum averages four more points per game than Pascal Siakam. That’s it. Siakam has Tatum beat in most traditional stats (TS%, Assists, Steals) and advanced stats (BPM, WS/48, PER, Net Rating). Despite their numbers (and team records) being fairly similar, you just know Tatum will get in before Siakam because he’s the Celtics’ #1 guy, while Siakam’s settled in as 1B.

In my opinion, there’s not enough of a case for me to make against Butler or Allen. They play for better teams and have each been a major reason why.

So, even if Tatum (ugh) makes the team above Siakam, he’ll join Butler and Allen behind Anteokounmpo, Embiid, and Durant. That still leaves 2-3 spots available (if KD misses the game), and a growing case that Siakam should fill one of them.

As All-Star voting wraps up this week, Siakam has a chance to polish off his All-Star resume with games against other East forwards making their own bids. The Toronto Raptors’ next 8 games come against four Eastern Conference foes (two games each).

January 25 vs Charlotte Hornets

The Hornets have the 23rd ranked defense but they’ve actually been much better lately. After kicking off 2022 with two losses and dropping to .500, Charlotte’s cobbled together the #2 defense over the last 2 weeks. They’ve won six of their last seven games including wins over the Sixers, Celtics, and Bucks (x2).

Several players have stepped up this season for the surprising Hornets. Kelly Oubre Jr. is proving to be one of the best off-season acquisitions. He’s shifted from a starting role with Phoenix and Golden State to a Sixth Man in Charlotte. Oubre’s changed his shot profile too. 61% of his shots last season were inside the arc. This season, he’s moved 58% of his shots to the three-point line without affecting his percentages. In fact, his shooting percentages have increased taking more threes than ever before (7.7 threes attempted this year vs. 5.2 last year).

LaMelo Ball is laughing in the face of the Sophomore Slump. The reigning Rookie of the Year has improved numbers across the board and is generating steam for a spot in the All-Star game.

As mentioned above, Miles Bridges is having himself an outstanding 2021-22 campaign too. In addition to All-Star buzz, Bridges is one of the frontrunners for Most Improved Player. Out of the 34 players that average 20 points per game, Bridges ranks 15th in Win Shares (9th in the East). Not bad for the guy who was drafted/traded by the Clippers for Shai Gilgeous-Alexander.

Fun fact that may only interest me

Cody Martin may not be high on Toronto’s scouting report — he’s scored 7 points total over his 4 games against the Raptors — but he probably should be.

Martin and Oubre are typically the first two players off the bench for Charlotte and Martin is a key cog in one of their many small-ball lineups. He has a WAR (Wins Above Replacement) of 3.0, which is higher than every Raptor not named Fred VanVleet. For additional context, Martin’s WAR ranks just below Draymond Green (3.1) and just above Bradley Beal (2.9). With a salary under $1.8 million, he provides one of the best contract values in the NBA. Allow me to hold onto the link with supporting info until further down this post.

Prediction

Last season, the Hornets were one of the only teams that could match the Raptors’ small-ball lineup. This year, the tables have turned with Scottie Barnes and Precious Achiuwa joining Toronto’s “tall-ball” lineup. Toronto’s length can really hurt Charlotte, a team that understandably struggles with keeping opponents off the offensive glass (#24 in opponents’ offensive rebounding percentage).

The Hornets are one of the few teams that get out in transition (#3 in transition frequency) as often as the Raptors (#2). Charlotte’s transition offense is dependent on their ability to generate steals (#4 in steals; #1 in transition possessions off steals). Rock meet hard place .Toronto is #1 in transition points allowed per possession off steals. Also, the Raptors are very good at protecting the rock with the league’s 2nd-ranked turnover percentage.

This should be an entertaining game filled with runs. Assuming it stays close, Toronto’s 5th-ranked clutch offense helps propel the Raptors over the Hornets, 109-107.

January 26 @ Chicago Bulls

The Bulls getting an extra day of rest and catching the Raptors on the back-end of a back-to-back may be the only good news in Chicago these days. In the last two weeks, the former-East-leading Bulls have taken over the Shams and Woj notifications:

  • January 13: Derrick Jones Jr. is diagnosed with a bone bruise in his right knee that will keep him sidelined for 4-6 weeks.
  • January 15: Zach LaVine suffers a left knee injury and will be re-evaluated this week.
  • January 20: Lonzo Ball is diagnosed with a small meniscus tear in his left knee that requires surgery. He is expected to return in 6-8 weeks.
  • January 21: Alex Caruso suffers a fractured right wrist (following a flagrant foul by Grayson Allen) and will be re-evaluated in 6-8 weeks.

Fun fact that may only interest me

With DeMar DeRozan and Zach Lavine potentially heading to the All-Star game together, they’d join a storied list of Bulls to make the roster as teammates:

  • 1967: Guy Rodgers & Jerry Sloan
  • 1971, 1973: Bob Love & Chet Walker
  • 1974: Norm Van Lier & Chet Walker
  • 1981: Artis Gilmore & Reggie Theus
  • 1989, 1992, 1993, 1996, 1997: Michael Jordan & Scottie Pippen
  • 2012: Luol Deng & Derrick Rose
  • 2013: Luol Deng & Joakim Noah
  • 2015, 2016: Jimmy Butler & Pau Gasol

If Nikola Vucevic squeaks in, they’d be the 2nd trio in franchise history to make the All-Star game in the same season. The only other trio is quite surprising:

  • 1994: BJ Armstrong, Horace Grant, & Scottie Pippen

You wonder why Pippen doesn’t shut up: the 1994 post-Jordan Bulls were essentially the 2019 post-Kawhi Raptors!

Prediction

The Bulls have lost 6 of their last 7, highlighted (low-lighted?) by a 19-point defeat at the hands of the Magic. They’re missing their top two thieves (Caruso: 1.9 steals; Ball: 1.8 steals), a key bench cog (Jones Jr. leads the team in TS%), and possibly their second-leading scorer (Lavine 24.9 points). Toronto has managed to (mostly) take care of business against undermanned opponents. While Chicago has the second longest win streak (4) for a Raptors opponent, the Bulls are simply missing too many important rotation pieces. DeRozan will definitely score 30+ and get Scottie Barnes and Gary Trent Jr. to bit on his pumpfakes but there’s only so much he can do. Toronto blows by the Bulls in the Windy City, winning 109-98.

January 29 @ Miami Heat

This feels like a rare occurrence, but it’s the Raptors opponent that appears to have a scheduled loss on their calendar! Toronto visits Miami on two days rest while the Heat play their second game of a back-to-back. The Heat are undefeated (9-0) when they have at least two days rest, but 2-5 when they have zero days rest.

Of course, nothing can be taken for granted, especially against a squad that’s as deep as Miami’s. Tyler Herro went into Health & Safety protocols after helping Miami defeat Toronto last week. With 12 days between games, I’ll go ahead and assume he’ll be back and ready to out-score Toronto’s bench.

Kyle Lowry’s absence from the Raptors game for personal reasons appears to be more serious than we originally perceived, as he’s missed Miami’s three subsequent games for the same reasons.

Speaking of the G.R.O.A.T., Lowry has 22 charges drawn. The entire Raptors team has drawn 9!

Fun fact that may only interest me

Remember that stat I mentioned above about Cody Martin’s WAR and salary? I purposely didn’t link to the supporting article so that it wouldn’t spoil who leads the league in contract value.

This player has a WAR of 2.7 (3rd on the team behind Lowry and Butler), which is just below Paul George (2.8) and just above Jaylen Brown (2.6). It’s even more impressive considering this player is on a two-way contract ($462,269)! Who is giving the best bang for the buck this season?

Cody’s twin brother, Caleb Martin!

Prediction

In last week’s 104-99 loss to Miami, the Raptors played well enough to win but ultimately fell short. Toronto corralled 15 offensive rebounds. Despite Bam Adebayo’s return, Toronto became the 5th opponent to corral 15 offensive rebounds, but only the 2nd to lose. The additional possessions generated led to 90 field goal attempts — the 10th Miami opponent to do so, but only the 3rd to still lose. Basically, the Raptors had a lot of positives to warrant optimism. With Gary Trent Jr. back for this matchup, let’s go with a Raptors victory over the Heat, 103-99.

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Last Week: 1-3

Season Record for Predictions: 23-21